Naomi and the Names We Call Ourselves

Despite our best intentions to resist, our circumstances inevitably affect our outlook on life. I’m stuck in this job. I’ll never get married. I must be a lousy father.

This isn’t new.

The Story of Naomi

Naomi is a central figure in the book of Ruth. After a famine-prompted move from Bethlehem to Moab, her husband and two sons died. Naomi was left with only her daughters-in-law.

Hearing that the famine had ended, Naomi headed back to Bethlehem. She freed her daughters-in-law from any obligation to go with her, but in a heart-warming statement of love and loyalty, Ruth stayed by Naomi’s side (Ruth 1:16–17).

Though she had a steadfast companion, Naomi’s life had fallen apart. Without a husband and with no other men in her family, she re-entered Bethlehem in low spirits.

The Story of Mara

Naomi already admitted her anguish (Ruth 1:13), but her bitterness boiled over when she met the women of Bethlehem.

She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (Ruth 1:20–21)

Naomi felt so crushed by God she rejected her given name (“Naomi” means pleasant) for another (“Mara” means bitter). How could she remain “Naomi” when life seemed anything but pleasant?

She was empty and God was to blame. From that moment on, her new name would announce her deep bitterness to everyone.

What Happened to Mara?

With this background, it’s surprising to reach the end of Ruth without another mention of the name “Mara.” Everyone uses “Naomi” without a second thought.

In Ruth 2:6, one of Boaz’s servants refers to Naomi. Boaz himself refers to Naomi in Ruth 4:34:5, and 4:9. The women of Bethlehem, whom Naomi had urged to call her Mara, use her original name in Ruth 4:17. Finally, the author of Ruth doesn’t use the name Mara again.

What do we make of this?

Our Names

Like Naomi, sometimes we name ourselves based on God’s difficult providences or our feelings.

Sometimes we adopt new names out of self pity, sometimes out of outright defiance. We think these new names define us, that they tell a complete, set-in-stone story from now on and forever.

Victim. Fearful. Outcast. Impatient. Guilty. Angry.

These descriptions might be accurate. They might describe you. But if you are a Christian, they do not define you. You don’t have the authority to name yourself.

Christians are given new names by God Almighty. These names define us. His authority is greater than ours, so his names for us stick. What are some of those names?

Child.
Redeemed.
Free.
Heir.
Saint.
New Creation.
Righteous.
Chosen.
Holy.
Forgiven.
Alive.
Citizen of heaven.
Loved.

Whose Voice?

There’s a great quote by Martyn Lloyd-Jones about self-talk for the Christian. It contains this gem.

Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?

Lloyd-Jones goes on to say that we must speak essential truths to our souls: “…remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do.”

Search the Bible. Embrace all that God has done for you in Jesus. Instead of the names spit out by your flesh, wear the names God gives you with thanksgiving.

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You Are Not a Number

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It’s 2019, so we can track and measure almost anything. These numbers we generate are simple, stark, and memorable. They stick with us for days, relentlessly patting us on the back or poking us in the ribs. Numbers are brain worms.

And while we can use numbers to describe aspects of our life, they are snapshots. Numbers cannot capture the most important information about us.

Not a Number

When we fixate on measurements, we usually boil our efforts down to failure or success. This number is too low; that one is finally high enough.

We’re easily consumed, thinking that one good or bad datum paints a complete picture. But we must shake off that thinking like a dog after his mud-puddle bath. Enjoy this freedom: you are not a number.

You are not your salary. You are not the balance in your retirement account. You are not your credit card balance or your credit score. You are not your net worth.

You are not your IQ, your standardized test score, your GPA, or your class rank. You are not the number of degrees you’ve earned.

You are not the number of people that attended your most recent meeting, event, or party.

You are not the number of points on your driver’s license. You are not the number of felonies you’ve committed or warrants out for your arrest. You are not your number of parking or speeding tickets.

You are not the number of miles you’ve run, the weight you can lift, or the calories you’ve burned/consumed. You are not the number of steps you’ve taken, the number of hours you’ve slept, or your body fat percentage. You are not your height, waist size, or dress size. You are not your weight.

You are not your number of Facebook friends or Twitter followers. You are not the size of your address book. You are not the number of emails you sent or received today. You are not the number of likes/shares your social media post received.

You are not the number of books you’ve read, awards you’ve won, or promotions you’ve received. You are not the number of books/articles you’ve published, the number of conference presentations you’ve given, or the number of times your work is cited. You are not the number of people you supervise.

You are not the number of your children, grandchildren, or divorces.

You have a number associated with each measurement on this list. Perhaps this number is known only to you. Whether that number represents success, failure, or something in between, you are not that number.

What Defines Us?

The most important question of our lives is not numerical but categorical: Have you been reconciled with God?

Reconciliation with God only happens through Jesus Christ. You cannot score well enough on any scale to earn God’s approval.

If you don’t know God, perhaps you’ve never thought about reconciling with him. But your sin offends God, and you deserve his wrath. The defining measurement in your life is your distance from God, and it is infinite.

But there is time! Right now, God is calling you. Confess your sins, trust in Jesus, and come into his family. (Watch a video explanation of this good news here, and find a longer, written introduction to Christianity here.)

If you have been reconciled with God, this is your new identity: child of God, beloved in heaven, destined for paradise, protected by the Father, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, welcome before the King. No bad score or sub-par measurement can decrease God’s love for you.

An important number is attached to this new identity: zero. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38,39).

Many numbers can describe our obedience or encourage our perseverance. Let’s instead fix our minds on the truth of God’s faithfulness to his numerous people.


This is a lightly edited version of an article that originally ran here.

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